Live at Interaction’10: day 3

Interaction Conference

Founded in 2008, the Interaction Design Association Conference brings together practitioners interested in all things around interaction design. Interaction 12 took place in Dublin, Ireland on 1–4 2012. Interactions 13 is set to take place in February 2013 in Toronto.

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As always a pumped, but a bit more tired from previous nights sponsored festivities, the audience kicked of the last day of the conference. After the opening keynote the winner of the student competition was announced and everybody got a chance to know a little more about the results from that.

Jeffery Blais – Designing for Mobile Experiences

One of the prediction for the coming decade was the importance of mobile technology over the next 10 years. Jeffery Blais from Sapient gave us a glimpse exactly why mobile experience will be so predominant. Mobile is for people that are constantly on the go, personal, naturally social, and used frequently. Presently, there are 4 billion people in the world that have some type of mobile subscription, and it’s projected that in 5 years, all cellphones in the United States will be a smartphone of some kind.

As designers, we have certain challenges we will face with the rise of mobile. For example, there will be a massive amount of devices available, each with their own nuances and methods of interactions – an interface design that works perfectly for one could completely fail for another.

Luckily, there are some strategies that can be adopted to deal with these challenges:

  • Understanding the business goals behind the mobile channel of your product.
  • Who is the audience that you are targeting?
  • What kind of opportunities does this mobile channel provide?
  • What does the road-map of your mobile interactions look like?

The keynote closed with tips on how to design for mobile experiences. The first step is to gain an understanding of the UI constraints: are you dealing with a full touch based screen or a tactile keyboard with a trackball? Understanding this allows you to know what the most optimum interactions are needed. In order to flush out these interactions, sketching is the best tool. An important part of this sketching activity is to detail the various states that a mobile application can take. It also lets you get down to the interactions that truly matter, and keeps the mobile experience as simple as possible.

Cindy Chastain – Thinking Like a Storyteller

Cindy Chastain's use of the classic dramaturgic model to map a use flow in the same manner

The importance of storytelling has been a recent topic of debate within the interaction design community. This was highlighted by a series of tweets that Cindy Chastain showcased at the very start of her talk. Some argued that they didn’t feel storytelling should get the level of importance as was being implied, while others argued that storytelling is pivotal to the process of interaction design. With her presentation she hoped to paint a better picture of storytelling’s role in design, and it would be safe to say she knocked it out of the park.

Perhaps the most profound nugget of knowledge that Cindy shared with the crowd was the fact that no matter what, when people use something they describe that use as a self-narrative. Everything from how it was used, to how it made them feel by using it. It’s how they convince their friends and family to either purchase a product, or avoid it. So, even if we don’t see the importance of storytelling from the perspective of our work, it’s very much there when our designs make it out into the wild.

Cindy pointed out that the best form of storytelling which we can learn from is drama. Specifically, there are six qualitative elements of drama which can be incorporated into our design process and thinking.

  • Plot (events)
  • Character (agents)
  • Thought (ideas/themes)
  • Diction (language)
  • Song (pattern)
  • Spectacle (The visual)

In closing, we were left with a practical exercise which ties to a design activity we already do: taking the natural flow of classic dramaturgic model, and mapping that to the flows we generate for how people will interact with our designs. This allows for us to map certain steps, people, or systems to one of the six qualitative elements listed above.

Gretchen Andersson – The Importance of Facial Features

Gretchen Andersson

The intention of Gretchen’s talk might not come through at once to the uninitiated. It connects a lot to what Chris Fahey said in his talk: “If we don’t humanize our products, our products will mechanize us.”.
Gretchen’s talk was more of a suggestion on how to hands-on work with how to convey the inner message of what we are working on.
Gretchen says we need take our heads out of the information architecture, wire framing, boxes and arrows work now and then and pay more attention to what it is we want to communicate to our users on a more emotional level. Her suggestion is to do that by using what she has chosen to name facial features. Gretchen referred to something that Jared Spool has said, that we are risking “if we don’t watch ourselves we risk ending up becoming perceived as a very boring crowd”. Gretchen referred to her recent switch to an employer that has a tradition to work more with product design, an area where these kind of emotional features are much more apparent in the design process.

She gave us long list of examples of static, physical products with obvious facial features among other from a recent commercials and then continued on to compare/discuss this to products with more interactive/experience over time related aspects.

She suggested we start by dissecting existing products with this in mind and then use that knowledge to apply it to our own products.

Kel Smith – The Use of Virtual Worlds Among People with Disabilities

Kel did a talk on what is referred to as inclusive design. In his introduction he talked about the term digital natives vs digital immigrants. In relation to this Kel suggested introducing the term digital outcasts, the people that are not considered in a design.

Several of Kel’s examples come from the online virtual world Second Life. He showed how people with all sorts of disabilities use various adaptations of it. Some of these were a digital guide dog for blind that leads you around and reads out tags to the user; a group of people in the Boston area with cerebral paresis that have experienced great personal development by sharing a Second Life avatar; and the Virtual Ability Island, a place on Second Life specifically adapted to people with disabilities.

He went on to show examples of cognitive computing where people control user interfaces and devices only through the power of the mind. Here is one example of a person controlling a robotic hand with the mind.

Some of the psychological aspects Kel talked about were how a virtual worlds adds a buffer of anonymity that facilitates connecting with other people easier or how fantasies can work as a distraction for pain management.

Kel gave a couple of pointers on what to think about when working with inclusive design, the most important being not to offend by for example using condescending wording and that there is a important difference between acting understanding and empathic rather that patronizing. Another source of information on the subject is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 which is described in the POUR (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Reliable) framework.

Dan Hill – New Soft City, Closing Keynote

Dan Hill

Dan Hill gave us an image of what the future looks like, and the role designers play in it. The work he does today is dealing with the design of cities, from a bus stop to an entire metropolis. By using projects that his firm is working on today, both those that are currently being worked on and those that are purely conceptual at this point. Some concepts that have come out of his work tie directly to how things are designed and how they interact with the people around them:

  • Sustainable Urbanism – Taking that which in our world that is invisible, and make it visible. Projecting real time data on the fabric of the city.
  • Responsive Urbanism – Public libraries around the world offer the use of WiFi internet connection for free. People are using these spaces in order to do simple browsing to their full time jobs.
  • Interactive Installation – Pieces of a building or structure that can be packed and unpacked like a playpen in order to be constructed.
  • Strategic Prototyping - Create artifacts from the future to show clients and stakeholders a vision of what things will look like.
  • Responsive Architecture - Cover a building with material that is capable of providing feedback in real time: Display the city’s activity as it happens.
  • Landscaping Information – What is the ‘cognitive load’ of the street? When does urban data become too much?
  • Urban Sensing – Is it possible to monitor mobile usage in real time? How does this affect people’s behavior if that information is displayed to the public?

Strategic Prototyping

The design of a city isn’t something that happens overnight. When his team is commissioned to design a subway system, they have to consider the fact the overall life span of that subway system is 50-100 years. Some things are considered in the design knowing that the technology may not be ready yet, but maybe in 20-30 years it will be. These designs are nothing but concepts, yet they still fit into the overall design of the system being created. Dan mentioned how in one of the previous keynotes we don’t really know what a sustainable future looks like. He has a pretty good idea though, and he sees it every day in the work that he does.

Conference Committee – Closing Remarks

All the people from both IxDA and SCAD thanked all the sponsors and participants for creating yet another successful event. As announced earlier, next year’s conference Interaction11 is going to be held in Boulder, Colorado.

The vibe at the end of this conference was positive, uplifting, and inspirational. As people walked out of the theater many goodbyes were shared, hands were shook, and hugs were shared. It’s been said that our community is one of the best there is, and it’s conferences like this that makes us proud to be a part of it.

Brad Nunnally

Brad Nunnally is a User Experience Design Consultant at Perficient based in St. Louis, MO. Aside from writing, plotting UX world domination, and tweeting a whole bunch , he fills his time playing with his son and dog.

Niklas Wolkert

Niklas Wolkert is an interaction designer from UID working at Ergonomidesign designing user experiences for small screen mobile devices, embedded systems, web sites to large scale multi-touch systems.

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